Biography of Jean Catoire by Catherine Catoire

Catherine Catoire | Malcom Bruno

Jean Catoire (Paris, 1923-2005) composer

Jean Catoire was born in Paris on the 1st April 1923, but he was immersed throughout his childhood in the culture of Russian immigration. His family, who lived in Moscow until the 1917 Revolution, loved and played music. His parents, his uncles and aunts played the piano and the violin, and his great- uncle Georges Catoire (1861-1926) taught composition at the Tchaikowsky Conservatoire in Moscow and was a composer known in Russia.

While very young Jean Catoire received a musical training at the Serge Rachmaninoff Conservatoire in Paris from the wife of the violinist Julius Conus, but he showed little interest in these courses which did not correspond with what he felt when he listened to music.

Jean Catoire

   Indeed an early experience deeply marked him when, at the age of seven, he heard his parents play the arrangement for piano duo of the first movement of Schumann’s First Symphony. This was a major defining moment, indeed the greatest of his life; he said, “I saw how the cosmic world developed and grew, how the elements of the language of sound materialised into the first connections that were non-material and non-sonorous, how the elements and the pre-sound masses were perceptible in the organisation of their respective connections in a unique progression, invisible, but omnipresent...”

   Several years later, it was with his aunt Valentine Catoire, née Kastorsky, daughter of a musicologist and conductor and niece of the well-known opera singer from St Petersburg, the bass Vladimir Kastorsky, that he took up the piano again with greater interest. Valentine had studied singing, piano and dramatic arts at the Tchaikowsky Conservatoire in Moscow and was highly musical. They played duets. He also liked to accompany his cousin on the piano who was a good violinist.

   However, it was in the month of June 1943 that an unexpected event led him on the path of composition: while he was standing in front of the church at Auteuil he saw high up, the presence of ante-sound, a presence which he described in this way: “it took up a large part of the field of vision, without in any way diminishing the material perception, in this case the top of the porch and the front of the church. This presence was unmoving and soundless and the non-sound was its entire manifestation. In its original immutability was to be found the motive of its later manifestations, these still not being absolute sounds”. This was the first time he had seen the archetypical ante-sound linked to tangible reality (“a personal physical place”).